Imagine yourself on a ferryboat deck with a latte in one hand, your overnight bag at your feet, and the dazzling Seattle skyline filling the horizon behind you. While the boat churns across Elliott Bay, the Space Needle disappears from view and a shoreline materializes in the distance.
You're bound for Bainbridge Island―an antidote to Seattle's big-city bustle and an introduction to Puget Sound island life. Here's how to make the most of a 30-hour visit.
9:35 a.m. Skip the commuter rush and take a midmorning ferry from Seattle. The 35-minute ride stops near Winslow, the downtown shopping district, a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal. Have a look around; you'll get the chance to shop tomorrow. Drop your bags at your hotel (see our recommendations under "10 p.m."). Now, it's time to explore. Although Bainbridge isn't large, you'll need a car, taxi, or bike to reach many areas.
10:30 a.m. In Winslow, you'll find a coffeehouse on every block. Pegasus Coffee House and Gallery serves beverages made from locally roasted beans in a vine-covered waterfront building, while Andante Coffee and Bainbridge Bakers attract loyal followings. Enjoy a cup of joe, then grab some take-out stir-fry from Teriyaki Town or a sandwich from Real Foods Market and Cafe.
12 p.m. Spend your afternoon discovering the island's beauty in pristine woods, state parks, and waterfront. Once a private estate owned by a timber magnate, Bloedel Reserve is now a 150-acre sanctuary of trees, wildlife, ponds, and gardens. Open by appointment, the park's paths meander past majestic Douglas firs, hemlocks, and cedars. Elsewhere on the island, try IslandWood, a 255-acre outdoor learning center, which offers three-hour walking tours of its breathtaking property.
If you still have time, take a boat tour. Back of Beyond Explorations and Exotic Aquatics Scuba & Kayaking both rent kayaks. Prefer pedaling to paddling? Rent a bike from Classic Cycle, which operates from the barn near the ferry terminal in the summer. Or explore by car. The coastal route along the island's south end borders stop-and-stare views and the chance to watch the Bremerton-Seattle ferry travel through Rich Passage.
6 p.m. When it's time for dinner, choose from one of Bainbridge's fine-dining restaurants: Edna's Beach Café, Madoka Pan-Pacific Restaurant, Café Nola, and The Four Swallows. Doc's Marina Grill, along the waterfront, serves some of the best fish-and-chips on Puget Sound. Sawatdy Thai Cuisine's dishes stand out despite its location next to a gas station.
7:30 p.m. While several restaurants offer live music, The Harbour Public House and The Living Room, a wine bar, are the island's best adults-only venues. On the first Saturday of each month, The Edge improv troupe grabs the local playhouse stage. Or catch independent films at The Historic Lynwood Theatre, a 1936 movie house on the island's south end. If you haven't already eaten, make a pre-showtime stop at nearby Treehouse Café for the island's best thin-crust pizza.
10 p.m. There's more to see and do tomorrow, so head back to your hotel for some shut-eye: The Eagle Harbor Inn wins praise as Winslow's premier accommodations, with four well-appointed rooms and three luxurious townhomes. Island Country Inn provides traditional motel amenities, and more than a dozen B&Bs and rental homes dot the island. Two of the most exquisite: Waterfall Gardens, a 5-acre retreat with spring-fed ponds, waterfalls, and gardens, and Skiff Point Guest House, with a 180-degree view of Puget Sound.
9 a.m. Wake up with traditional morning fare at Richie's 305 Diner or Streamliner Diner. For a lighter option, try Blackbird Bakery. You won't find toast on the bakery's chalkboard menu, but order it anyway. When the thick-cut wheat slices and jam arrive at your table, you'll be glad you did.
10 a.m. There's still time to explore Winslow's compact commercial district, which offers everything from a top-notch travel store to a distinctive candle shop. At Eagle Harbor Book Co., browse titles by some of the island's almost 200 published authors, such as David Guterson, who penned Snow Falling on Cedars. A few doors down, Bainbridge Arts & Crafts represents hundreds of regional artists. Clothes shopping is an upscale affair―the numerous boutiques include Adam & Eve Clothing Company, which carries more than 100 styles of jeans. When you've had your fill of browsing, get a bite to eat. Then indulge your sweet tooth at either Mora Iced Creamery or Bon Bon Confections.
1 p.m. Before the sun sets on your visit, stop at the Bainbridge Island Historical Society & Museum to uncover a history tied to shipbuilding, strawberry farming, and Japanese internment during World War II. Or stroll the boardwalk that leads from Eagle Harbor to the ferry terminal.
2:55 p.m. Board the ferry, and depart Bainbridge relaxed. Now that you've had a glimpse of island life, Puget style, we know you'll be back.
Bainbridge: Why go now?
Think Puget Sound and you think green. But from late September through October, maple, native alder, and white birch trees splash a rainbow of colors onto the island's evergreen canvas. No matter when you come, expect some rain.
Before You Go: Make an appointment to explore Bloedel Reserve, 206/842-7631. And book hotel accommodations: The Eagle Harbor Inn, 206/842-1446; Island Country Inn, 800/842-8429; Waterfall Gardens Private Suites, 206/842-1434; Skiff Point Guest House, 206/842-7026.